Kitchen Stuff: Mise en Place

17 May

I don’t know quite when I became hooked on the Food Network, but it’s one of the few channels I can almost always flip to and find something I’ll enjoy (unless it involves Rachael Ray, in which case, no thank you.)  It’s probably no surprise that my favorite host is Alton Brown.  His unabashed nerdiness endeared me to Good Eats early on — food, science, and the occasional Star Wars reference:  how can you go wrong?

So when Alton talked up the virtues of having a mise en place, you’re damn right I listened.

Mise en place translates to “everything in place” (or, literally, “putting in place.”)  It’s a technique that just plain makes sense:  read your recipe, take out the things you need, get your tools out.  That way you can concentrate on actually cooking.

Ever have one of those experiences where you’re halfway through a recipe, then you realize oh shit, I need three eggs and there are only two left in the carton?  Sometimes you can drop what you’re doing, stick the stuff you’ve already mixed in the fridge, and dash on out to the store.  With other recipes, you might discover a missing ingredient with stuff already on the stove, and taking it off the heat for ten minutes will mess things up.

Having a mise en place makes you take stock of what you need before you get to chopping, so if you have to run out, you don’t leave ingredients congealing on the counter.  It also means you’re not breaking off to wash measuring cups partway through, either.

Come take a peek at this evening’s dinner prep with me!

Step 1:  Read your recipe.

It seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?  Still, it’s a good reminder, and helps you catch some of the minutiae you might not have expected.  How long will it take to cook the meal?  Do the instructions require any overnight prep?  Does it call for softened butter and you haven’t taken the sticks out of the fridge?

I got all excited for a crockpot chili recipe once, until I realized I hadn’t soaked the beans in water overnight.  Even though I had all my ingredients together at noon on a Sunday, it just wasn’t happening.  At least, not with the red beans.  Read both the ingredient list and the instructions over a couple of times if this is the first time you’re making the dish.

Tonight’s recipe, by the way, is the “Spring Risotto” from the April 2011 issue of Cooking Light. 

Step 2:  Pull your ingredients together.

Go down the list and put everything on it in a central location.  Like this:

Ignore the books and dice. They are not edible. The cookies, however, are.

This lets you take stock again.  Last chance to run to the grocery store!

Step 2:  Gather your utensils.

Or, as Alton likes to call it, your hardware.  I like not having to paw through the silverware drawer for the 1/8 tsp measuring spoon while stuff’s bubbling away.  So much easier just to have it at the ready.

The wine is for me.

Those blue and green measuring bowls are pretty awesome, by the way.  My mom gave them to us for Christmas a couple of years back.  Each one has a ridge partway up the inside so you can use it for two different measurements, say 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup.

Step 4:  Measure and cut

If you have vegetables to chop, chop ’em.  If you have liquids to measure, do it.  Need a cup of rice?  Scoop that bad cat out.  That way, when the recipe says “add this list of, like, fifteen things all at once,” you can do it.  Hell, if you do have a list of several things that get added at the same time, you can put them in the same bowl now and save some time.  Dumping in the celery, carrots and onions all together?  You got this.

Soon, SOON, you will be tasty risotto.

Okay, okay, I admit:  I don’t usually measure out the salt/pepper/olive oil until I’m putting it in the pot.  I’m a hypocrite, I know.

If you need to pre-heat your oven, you might want to do that now.

Step 5:  Cook!

I’m not going to get all Smitten Kitchen or Pioneer Woman up in here.  At least, not tonight.  Partly because this ain’t my recipe, it’s Cooking Light’s*.  Partly because I’m not good enough to work the camera while emptying a bowl of asparagus into boiling water, and I didn’t want to drag Greg away from Dragon Age 2.  And partly because, well, I stirred risotto for half an hour.  Boooooring.  So we’ll just skip ahead to…

Step 6:  Eat!

Mmmm, tasty.

Got any tips or tricks for making your culinary adventures go more smoothly?  Share ’em!

*If I make my dad’s spaghetti sauce, I’ll get all camera-happy, I promise.

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4 Responses to “Kitchen Stuff: Mise en Place”

  1. Marty May 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    I want pictures when you make your dad’s sauce!!!

  2. Hillary May 18, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    I want pictures of you /smeared/ in your dad’s sauce.

  3. Caulle May 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Not quite sure I want pictures of sauce anymore.

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